Two articles appeared in the 7/8/13 edition of the Guardian, one by John Henley the other by Hadley Freeman, both journalists trying to make sense of what to do with the internet. It's generally accepted that the internet is a sort of 'wild west', complete with cyber bullying, violent and degrading child pornography, misogynistic abuse by the bucket load, and of course, 24/7 illegal government surveillance. What is not generally accepted is what to do about it. The whole debate revolves around a simple axis; to censor and regulate, or allow the internet to exist as it was originally envisaged  an open international democratic forum for all views, all opinions and all proclivities. It's a damn tricky one. Is it conceivable to do both? Time will tell. My gut instinct is to favour some basic regulation but who does the regulating and by what criteria do they regulate? And then there is the logistics of such a mammoth task. Billions of emails and tweets to sift through daily. That stinks of 1984 and all that that sinister thesis implies. Mind you, with Snowden's revelations about the NSA, perhaps we have entered that zone already.

 

Every question seems to beget another equally disturbing one until in the end the internet conundrum begins to defy the rational mind. In John Henley's article the owners of the social networking site, Ask.fm defend their site by arguing that social networking sites are merely the medium and that abuse, bullying and even youth suicides have always been a part of life, albeit an ugly and tragic part. They have a point. Admittedly cyber bullying has the added dimension of creepy anonymity and ubiquitousness that could give the victim a foreboding sense of hopelessness. But in her article, Freeman raises a more profound question. Addressing the question of misogynistic abuse Freeman has this to say:

'I'm a lot less interested in who receives this abuse than why it is sent at all. Why are there so many people who feel so disenfranchised, who feel so angry, that the only way they can cope is by sending anonymous death threats to strangers. And what can be done to remedy this? These are tough questions that an increasingly online world needs to address.'

Tough questions indeed. Freeman might have usefully included the word alienated, not just in the lay sense but in the full Marxist sense of the word. As our rampant capitalist system inexorably marches towards creating 10 billion atomised consumers, the depth of alienation that the young Marx warned about will have truly come to pass. Community, empathy and social responsibility will be concepts of a distant past. In their place will come isolation, purposelessness and a screaming personal anger. I suspect we are witnessing it already. Our relationship to our work, those lucky enough to find some, is increasingly cold and impersonal. Zero hour work contracts are a reminder of just how expendable human beings have become in the work process. Fifty percent youth unemployment in some European countries is further evidence of that cold, dehumanising expendability. Those still in work are often reduced to low wage cogs in a giant corporate machine.

Faced with this bleak reality, little wonder our fellow citizens are boiling over with hatreds and anger. Unable, through a lifetime of ideological brainwashing, to focus that anger at the faceless world of corporations, they turn their alienated selves against their fellow human beings. No amount of regulation of the internet will dissipate that blind and seething volcano of existential rage. Tightly regulating the internet may serve only to redirect that rage, possibly to an even more socially destructive outcome. We see it regularly enough in the United States where disaffected citizens take up weapons and go on a murderous shooting spree.

As for the misogynistic hatreds that Freeman has addressed, one can only say that we live in a swamp of misogyny; in the media, in the music industry and in the 'entertainment' industry generally. Little wonder that it is thrown back at us by alienated, disaffected men. It's a dispiriting downward cycle of self-loathing that is reflected outwardly in misogynistic, homophobic and racist abuse. And the internet has proved to be the ideal medium for this toxic pus to find a public outlet. Welcome to the 21st century.

We ought never to to forget in all this, that the internet is as technologically revolutionary to human society as was the printing press five hundred years ago. Probably a hundred fold more so. Admittedly the State is quite capable of radically curtailing its democratic scope, as the Chinese and US governments continues to prove, but if the State chooses to neuter the freedom of the net beyond certain limits the net will likely fold in on itself to the detriment of both the rulers as well as the ruled. 1984 is always closer than we think.

End JPK Copyright 14/8/13

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 24 May 2018 05:52 )